The Archives of Internal Medicine in its August 15 issue published two studies examining how physicians disclose medical errors to patients. Summaries appear below.
- "Choosing Your Words Carefully": Researchers surveyed 2,637 medical doctors and surgeons in the U.S. and Canada to determine what types of medical errors doctors were most likely to disclose and how much information they were willing to share with patients. The study found that physicians in both specialties were less likely to disclose errors that might not be obvious to patients and that doctors' views varied regarding whether and how to apologize after medical errors occur. The authors recommended the development of error-disclosure guidelines to help physicians choose phrasing consistent with patient preferences on apologies and for the creation of information about preventing recurrences of such errors. In addition, the guidelines should specify the types of information that should be disclosed to patients following a medical error, according to the researchers (Gallagher et al., Archives of Internal Medicine, Aug. 14/28).
- "U.S. and Canadian Physicians' Attitudes and Experiences Regarding Disclosing Errors to Patients": Researchers surveyed 2,637 U.S. and Canadian physicians to determine how the countries' different medical malpractice systems affect medical error disclosure. The study found similar views among doctors in both countries regarding disclosure, implying that "these beliefs may relate to the norms, values and practices" that comprise the "culture of medicine," rather than malpractice concerns. Overall, physicians said that serious medical errors should be disclosed but that many factors might prevent disclosure. Researchers recommend that physicians be trained in error-reporting techniques to increase their confidence in discussing errors with patients and that education programs be created to improve physician involvement in patient safety programs (Gallagher et al., Archives of Internal Medicine, Aug. 14/28).